Oddly I’ve never been tagged in a blog hop. Not sure why, but recently I was tagged by a close, personal friend of mine, Michell Plested to do a blog hop interview about my writing process.
Mike is also my writing partner on our upcoming project, Jack Kane and the Statue of Liberty. Beyond our project (which we hope will grow into a series), he’s also written Mik Murdock: Boy Superhero, His podcast novel, Galaxybillies, and his award nominated writing podcast, Get Published.
Mike was tagged by Robert Runte, who was tagged by Joe Mahoney, who was tagged by Susan Rodgers, and if you’d like to follow further back than that, by all means, surf the blog hop (as it was intended to be surfed).
As for my interview, here we go!
Mike: You have some very aggressive writing targets. Can you talk about what they are, why you made them and how you are managing to work on them.
JR: Last year I wanted to write something I thought would be a modest number of words: 1000 words per day. When you look at that small number, it doesn’t seem like that many words. When you add them all up at the end of the year, that’s 365,000 words. When looking at a number that large, it looks daunting. For some people it looks nearly impossible. To me, it looks almost like a challenge.
I took it on head first and failed miserably. I only managed roughly 180,000 words. Just about half my original goal. I say ‘failed’, but is 180,000 words in a year a failure?
A long, long time ago I worked doing door-to-door sales. Our motto was shoot for the stars, you just might land on the moon. I don’t see hitting the moon as a failure.
This year, I upped my goal. Yes, I know that sounds crazy when I missed my goal for last year by a lot. Well, a lot of life happened last year that preventing me from writing for nearly seven months. This year, fates willing, I will have a lot more time to actually sit and write. So rather than just 1000 words per day, I’m shooting for 10% more (1100 words per day).
To get to my goal for 2014, I make sacrifices in order to write as much as possible. I watch less TV, I don’t go out to the movies, I cut back on a little sleep here and there, I cut back on the online games I play. If I’m to hit my goals, I need to spend time actually working on hitting those goals.
Mike: How do you balance having so many projects on the go? Do you work on one at a time for each one: or a certain number of hours; or a % of your writing time; or is it just a matter of focusing on each deadline as it comes up? Or do you switch from one to the other as you get blocked or bored with what you’re currently working on?
I won’t lie; I have a number of unfinished projects. One of the goals I set for this year was to revisit all those projects I left behind and either finish or toss them. I know I do the best when focusing on one at a time. That’s what I am doing. I’ve already completed one novel and a couple short stories this year. I plan on completing a few more novels and a few more short stories.
For the most part, I’ll be writing each project one at a time from start to finish. If I don’t, I know I’ll be leaving stories behind once more and I don’t want to do that anymore. So I will take on something and I will work on it until it’s done. I want to clear the deck for future projects. Having all these stray projects causes me stress that I don’t need, so I want to put them behind me rather than leave them sitting around just waiting to be finished.
Now, I say mostly and let me explain that. I’ve got two projects that aren’t 100% under my control. Those projects include the sequel to Jack Kane (guess who the co-author is). The second is a book that I’ll be working on with the other person Mike has tagged, Jeff Hite. So I’ll do what I can when I can which means I may be working on three projects at the same time. There will be some juggling going on, but that will only make the challenge all the more entertaining.
We will see how the year goes.
Mike: What is your writing process? Where on the “just sit down and write <—> detailed notes/outline” continuum do you fall? Do you revise as you go, or first draft and then revise? Any routines or rituals that need to be followed?
I sit, I type, I hope for the best.
My process has evolved over the years. I’ve been writing nearly as long as I’ve been programming (since I was 12 or 13). When I was younger, I would write long-hand (I didn’t own a typewriter) and I would just write whatever came to mind. That lasted for a very long time.
Then I decided that it just wasn’t working. My stories weren’t getting to where I wanted them to be, so I started plotting. I’d write a page or two explaining what each chapter of a book would be about. That got me closer, but still didn’t feel right.
I got those down to about a paragraph for each chapter, then eventually down to a sentence per chapter. That’s where I’m at now. I will do a very rough outline of about 40 chapters per full-length novel. My chapters are short (around 2000 words) which makes the book read quickly as well as get written quickly as well. I do my best to not go back through a work until it is complete. If there’s a major change in the story line, I’ll make a note, know that it’s been changed, and move on. I don’t go back and re-write until the work is done.
I have no rituals. I used to. When I’d sit and write I’d eat an orange or two, or I’d take a short walk to get the blood flowing. I still walk, but not before I write. Now, I sit down, open my word count spread sheet, open the scrivener doc for the story I’m currently working on, and start typing where I left off. After 30 years of writing, I don’t need to warm up any more J
Mike: You have written short stories and novels. You have podcast some of your work and you have self-published other work. From that experience, what stands out as the most important learnings and principles or advice so far?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from podcasting was that reading my material out loud helps me find those little grammatical nuances I missed when typing. Now when I do dialogue, I will sometimes say the words out loud as I type them to help me get the flow of a conversation. I’ll find those little gasps, sighs, laughs, grunts, that some people will miss. Rather than pepper my dialogue with said, asked, etc, I will put in something that people do. To me, it’s more interesting when someone wrinkles their nose before asking a difficult question rather than just having them ask. These are things I can figure out as I’m saying the words.
If you want to get good as dialogue, talk to people. Talk to a lot of people. Talk to a lot of DIFFERENT people. People you don’t know. Watch how they react to what you say. Take mental notes on their faces, their body movement, the inflection. These are things that will help you write dialog that flows smoothly and will help give a personality to the people you’re writing about. It’s those little things that people see, but don’t notice. It’ll help the reader attach a little thing to someone they know, and suddenly your character just got that much more personal.
As for self-publishing, the best thing I can say is don’t expect to get rich quick. Get on a schedule (if at all possible), put as much money into your projects as you’re able to, and put out the best possible product you can. People will forgive little editing errors, they won’t forgive a bad story.
Mike: Anything else you’d like to add on your writing process?
I’d like to say that writing is easy. To be honest, it hasn’t always been. Sometimes, as I’ve said earlier, life happens. Your brain will want to turn off, you’ll need to take a break, and that’s alright. If you get into a writing groove, you’ll know it and it will feel wonderful. If you fall out of that groove, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t try to get caught up because you feel you fell behind. Just pick up where you left off and start again. That groove will be easier and easier to find each time you get back to it.
I’ve fallen off the horse many times. It’s not how many times you fall off. It’s how many times you get back on.
In the next day or two, I will be updating this post with two people I will tag and interview. Thank you Mike for allowing me to join in. This was fun. 🙂